Diacritics is 50: A golden anniversary is a significant milestone for any academic publication, let alone one that began from a rather eccentric (dare I say punk?) ethos. Rather than the usual toasts or special commemorative issues, we have asked our readers and writers to reflect on the history of the journal. In the sixth installment in our anniversary series, Irving Goh remembers the late Jean-Luc Nancy and the two-part special issue of Diacritics on Nancy’s work, “The Prepositional Senses of Jean-Luc Nancy.”
In 2015 and 2016, diacritics published a two-part special issue on “The Prepositional Senses of Jean-Luc Nancy,” which I guest co-edited with Timothy Murray. We invited some of the brilliant scholars whose works engaged with Nancy’s thought: Philip Armstrong, Verena Andermatt Conley, Jeffrey S. Librett, Eleanor Kaufman, Frédéric Neyrat, and Juan Manuel Garrido. Beyond their contributions, as well as mine and Tim’s, Anglophone readers were also treated to Nancy’s essay versions of what would later be published in book-length form and translated into English as Doing (2020) and Sexistence (2021): “What Is to Be Done?” and “Sexistence.” If these are not bonuses enough, readers also got to enjoy artworks by Simon Hantaï in the first part, and by François Martin in the second. We certainly have Philip Armstrong to thank for the former, and for the latter, Nancy, who also provided us with a photograph of a wall drawing by Martin. The drawing was done when Martin’s home was undergoing repairs, and apparently does not exist anymore. There was a caption in the bottom left of the drawing but it was rather illegible. Based on however much he could make of the inscription, Nancy went on to call the drawing “Pompéi—Villa du mystère en trop” (“Trop,” of course, was also the title Nancy gave the exhibition that brought together his thinking and the art of Martin and Rodolphe Burger at the Galerie de L’UQÀM in Montréal, Canada in October 2005). Following the thread of gratitude, we also have to thank Diane Brown, then-managing editor of the journal. Diane worked fastidiously to make sure everything was in order and meticulously copyedited every piece. If the issue is anywhere near perfect, it is undoubtedly due to her work.
The special issue was not the first time diacritics published Nancy’s work. His essay “The Two Secrets of the Fetish” appeared in in 2001. Through these publications, Nancy joins the list of other major French thinkers and theorists that diacritics has featured: Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière, and Peter Szendy. Non-French major theorists among the diacritics authors include Ernesto Laclau, Giorgio Agamben, and Slavoj Žižek. In a way, one might be tempted to say that Nancy is one star in the constellation of “high theory” star thinkers that diacritics has gathered throughout its publication history. However, knowing Nancy, he would have modestly refused the “star” label. In his view of existence, there is no one who is exceptional, no one who is more special than anyone else; we are but existents all sharing in a “being-in-common.” Instead of “star,” then, Nancy would prefer the all-so-common or nondescript term “passerby” (passeur). A passerby, according to him, is “each time anyone whatsoever,” hence “each time […] also common.” And as long as we are existing, we are all passersby: “The passerby passes, is in the passage: what is also called existing. Existing: the passing being of being itself. Coming, departure, succession, passing the limit, moving away, rhythm, and syncopated blackout of being.”
We are all commonly passersby, certainly. Yet this does not mean that we are common with one another in any homogeneous sense. As Nancy clarifies, it is “not that the passerby is anonymous.” Besides, Nancy will insist on the singularity of each existence, or what he also deems the mystery in each of us. We all bear in common the mystery of our individual existence. But this also means that the mystery in each of us is different from that of another, which thus renders us un-common at the same time. To relate this back to the passerby: in different ways or in ways unique to each of us, we pass into this world or “come into presence” at the moment of our birth, we pass through myriad others as we enter into and leave various social and professional groups throughout our lives, and we pass on in our death (which, to put it in Heideggerian terms, affirms our individual “authenticity” in our singular approach toward death).
Nancy passed on August 23, 2021. To many of us, there is no doubt that he was an un-common passerby, un-common in his “post-deconstructive” thinking delivered in an incomparably lucid and lyrical prose, un-common in his infinite generosity, hospitality, and patience. True to form, he never acted like a “star” or diva when any of us worked with him. He was always more than ready to treat all of us warmly and openly as equals. As I write this on December 25, a day when the religious commemorate the gift to mankind and when the secular celebrate gift-giving, I just want to give thanks to Nancy for passing by us in this world, for letting some of us pass by him, for passing by diacritics.
 Irving Goh and Timothy Murray, eds. “The Prepositional Senses of Jean-Luc Nancy (I).” Diacritics 42, no. 2 (2014); “The Prepositional Senses of Jean-Luc Nancy (II).” Diacritics 43, no. 4 (2015).
 Jean-Luc Nancy. “The Two Secrets of the Fetish.” Diacritics 31, no. 2 (2001): 2–8.
 Jean-Luc Nancy. “The Vestige of Art.” In The Muses, translated by Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996): 99.
 Nancy, “The Vestige of Art,” 99.